3 Days in Budapest
Hungary’s capital city is really the underdog of European cities. Waves of cultural occupation over the centuries have shaped the unique architecture and culture.
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The city is bisected by the Danube into two rivaling siblings with very different personalities. Buda, the older of the two, is a refined, rich and quiet. It has beautiful buildings, an evolved architectural style, and the majestic Buda castle overlooking the city.
In sharp contrast, the younger Pest is a little haphazard, reckless and stylish. It has the best in food, music and nightlife. However, it outdoes its older brother with the majestic national parliament and basilicas.
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Day 1: Explore Pest
- [6+ hours] Start your day with a walk along the 150 year old Andrássy Avenue, that was once a defining artifact of city planning in the world.
- You may want to start with a tour of the Vajdahunyad Castle, heroes square and punctuate the 2-mile (3-km) long walk with stops at local coffee shops, shopping plazas or just meandering into one of the side-streets with beautiful, old buildings, and the opera house.
- Oktogon, the intersection of Andrássy Avenue and the Grand Boulevard houses one of the most startling landmarks – the world’s biggest Burger King.
- However, unless you are really craving greasy american fast food, we’d recommend stopping at Kogart Gallery and Restaurant for lunch
- At the end of Andrassy Avenue and just before the Danube river, St. Stephen Basilica. The church is the tallest building in the Pest side (tied with the Hungarian Parliament), standing at a height of ~100 meters (~300 feet). It is named in honour of Stephen, the first King of Hungary, whose supposed right hand is housed in the reliquary. Entrance is free of charge with a voluntary donation.
- Pick up a few souvenirs and mingle with the locals in Váci Street to cap off your afternoon
- [2 hours] After a a tiring day of walking around Pest, you should reward yourself with a drink at New York cafe at the luxurious Boscolo (New York Palace) hotel in the evening. Most evenings have live music that pairs with any cocktail. A couple of hours here will soothe your body and soul
- [2 hours] Venture out after dark to catch a first glimpse of the majestic Hungarian Parliament. Said to be inspired by the British House of Parliament, this serves as both a vibrant government center and a proud city landmark on the banks of the Danube. Lighting at night brings out a majestic sight. You might want to see this building a couple of different times (i) during the day, and maybe take a tour- this might need reservations in advance (ii) from the Buda side
- [2 hours] For most, this is the end of the day. But if you are high on energy and enjoy nightlife, venture out to ruin bars. This very literal area, is built in the old Jewish quarter in the ruins of abandoned buildings and lots. This neighborhood was un-inhabited after World War II, so it was a perfect place to develop an underground bar scene.
Day 2: Explore Buda
- [1 Hour] Start your day early, before the shops and castles open in Buda. If you reach Matthias Church early enough in the morning, you can walk around the place with very few people around. Consider taking a walking or Segway tour through this historic district.
- [2 Hour] Explore Matthias Church and Fisherman Bastion at a leisurely pace. This area is all about the hidden sights; take your time.
- [1 Hour] Stop at one of the cafes that open early for breakfast and coffee to get a filling start to the day
- [3 Hours] Spend time wandering the grounds of the Buda Castle. Despite towering over the city at an elevation, it is easy to reach by foot or tram
- [2 Hours] End your Buda tour with a l soak at Kiraly Medicinal Bath. The relaxing hot natural spring water is a great way to dispel your tired legs after a day of walking through the historical district.
- [1 Hour] Watch the sun setting behind the majestic city and the parliament building light up from the other side of the river. It is a truly surreal experience.
- If you are not very tired, you can walk back along the historic Chain bridge. End your day with a relaxing dinner in one of the many amazing restaurants on either side of the river. After 2 days of hiking, your legs could use some rest.
Day 3: What did I miss?
- [2 hours] This maybe your last opportunity to come back to the Parliament building for an actual tour. This hour-long tour should be followed up with another hour of aimless wandering in the neighborhood. If you are a photographer, you could find a masterpiece. Do not miss the heartbreaking Shoes on Danube.
- [3-4 hours] Find your museum of choice and spend time exploring. You are spoilt for choice between the National Museum, the National Gallery, the Castle Museum amongst others. Just pick a subject that fascinates you and explore. Lonely Planet compiles a great list here.
- [2-3 hours] The house of terror is a terrifying, yet important collection that makes you experience the instruments of oppression during the fascist regimes in Hungary
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The local cuisine is distinctly European, with a hint of Russian influence. You have to try the local goulash and strudels. Most of the dishes have a robust dash of paprika – a flavorful and spicy seasoning. But Budapest has an interesting mix of artful Hungarian cooking right next to fascinating street-eats
- Budapest Bisztró makes the best goulash in town and is easy to find, right next to the parliament building. They even offer free shuttles to and from most major hotels in the area. The Blue Rose Restaurant near the Synagogue, although not a popular, makes a terrific Goulash as well
- For the equally iconic but lesser known fisherman’s soup, visit Duna Garden. You will see as many locals as tourists in this restaurant. This is located at the bank of Danube, off the beaten tourist path. So you have to go out of your way to find the restaurant.
- For an afternoon snack, (or a cheat lunch), try the local Lángos. This street foot is best had on the street. Kazinczy utca has some great food trucks that serve this up. See other food trucks and street food options here.
- Like any meal, a visit to Budapest is not complete without the national dessert. Somlói Galuska is a layered sponge-cake layered with chocolate and cream. The original recipe is still proprietary to Gundel’s restaurant, but you will find variants in many restaurants in the city.
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Best place to buy souvenirs is the central market hall.
- Authentic Hungarian Paprika is often hard to find outside, and plentiful in Budapest. Stop by any spice shop .
- Hungary is known for its lace work and embroidery. Both are well-known cottage industries. You have a wide range of choices between clothes, hats and home decor
- If you are looking for something small and inexpensive that captures the essence of Budapest, you can’t beat a Rubik’s cube. Learn about the origins here.